In my first China travel, several years ago, I went to Southern China, near Guangzhou. I didn’t imagine that I would meet that many elderly people hanging out in the streets. Since I’ve never been to Northern China, I thought that it was something typical from the South, since weather is quite warm and because it wasn’t a very big city, so seniors could enjoy the tranquility of the city with their friends. But when I came back in China few months ago, taking a flight to Beijing more precisely was quite surprised to notice the same phenomena here. Seniors are especially active in China; I think that there is a huge gap between seniors in western countries and eastern ones.

In France (where I come from), the Elderly are quite alone, I mean they spend their day at home, reading the newspaper, watching TV, going out sometimes to shop at the supermarket or at the market, and see their family members once a week. They have plenty of time but don’t have the opportunity to meet other a lot of people, or do some regular activities. I think that seniors in China are much happier than in France, they are surprisingly active. Furthermore, most of the times they live in the same place than their children with the whole family or just at the house/apartment next door, they are never very far from their children and grandchildren.

Here is a typical day of a senior in China:
They wake up quite early in the morning drink a cup of tea, have a breakfast and read the newspaper. As they’re up before the whole family they prepare the breakfast for everyone and have it together. Then, while the weather is still fresh, they go to some parks, in the streets, or just down the building to have a walk, gather with the old people in the neighborhood, do some exercise with some punchy music and dance. At midday they go back home to have lunch with the grandchildren they took at school, and then they take a nap because the weather is too hot to go out. And when they wake up they usually spend the rest of the afternoon with their friends chatting outside or play games like mahjong or cards.

Indeed when I go to the parks or when I walk out from my building I like to chat with the Elderly. They are very nice, funny and are happy to speak and meet with a foreigner. They might invite you for a cup of tea in the afternoon and eat some fruits if they like you. Or better, you can spend the afternoon playing with them at Chinese chess, mahjong or cards. I still don’t know how to play Chinese chess, but they already taught me how to play mahjong and cards. First, the rules of mahjong were quite difficult to assimilate, but after few games, I felt like I’ve been playing this game my whole life! I must confess that this is now my favorite game; it requires skill, strategy, calculation and involves a certain degree of chance. Now I can easily “Pung, Kong, Chi” with the 136 tiles.

No surprise that Chinese people are known to have the longest life in the world if they are as happy. I wish I could live like them when I grow old and spend my day taking things easy. So, next time you will see a group of seniors in a park or in the street, don’t hesitate to discuss with them even if they can’t speak English, I’m sure that you will spend a great time and live an amazing human experience. What make your China tour different from others would be the people you met and the experience you’ve shared not only the place you’ve visited.

Jack Li

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